Illegal downloading of content at George Mason University is becoming a major issue for students. Claudia Holland, head of the Copyright Resources Office at Mason, is a registered copyright agent who is designated to receive copyright infringement notices from anyone, including students and enforcement groups.

When students log into UAC Wireless on Mason’s Internet connection, “they agree to abide by the statements and the responsible use of computing which includes copyright,” Holland said.

“The trend has been over the past 20 years or so since the advent of the Internet that people who own content have gotten much more concerned about how their material is distributed,” Holland said. “The infringement notices that we receive from the content industry have increased quite a bit.”

“Most of the enforcement groups that contact us represent artists. There are different groups that represent and probably are paid by that member, who is an artist or creator of some sort to act on their behalf to identify infringing content and stop it,” Holland said. “They have bots [that] go out and search the Internet the same way that people are using peer-to-peer file-sharing software. These bots then look for content; they may look for a specific song or movie, or they may have a whole list of content that they look for.”

If an individual from Mason is accused of downloading content illegally, enforcement groups send a form letter to Holland’s office which contains information that says that someone on Mason’s campus has downloaded content without permission.

“My office receives these notices, [and] we then forward that information to Network Operations here on campus,” Holland said. “They have people who are physically looking at the computer logs to compare the information that is provided by the enforcement agency with what’s on the computer log. They then send us back a name and an email address.”

“In order for the notice to come to us, [the students] have to be on the Mason system,” Holland said. When a student is accused of illegally downloading content for the first time, the person receives a notice from Mason.

The second time a student is accused of illegally downloading content, another letter is sent out to the student. The student is required to meet with Holland within five business days or they risk being blocked from Mason’s network. The student is also required to sign a statement that says he agrees to delete the illegally downloaded content from his computer.

The third time a student is accused of illegally downloading content, Holland sends the case directly to the Office of Student Conduct. The student is required to write a 10-page paper about illegal downloading, and in some instances the student may be required to meet with a conduct board about the issue. Enforcement groups may take the student in question to court, and the student may be sued.
“We have never had an individual sued that I know of. We never share the student’s information with anyone outside the university,” Holland said. When asked about repeat offenders, Holland said “they remove the content that is infringing but they don’t remove the other content.” A student can expect his or her internal education record to be affected if he gets caught for illegally downloading content.

Downloading things on the Internet can lead to malware, spyware and Trojan viruses. “There [are] so many other ways to listen to or watch content. Don’t download it. Just stream it or pay for it,” Holland said.

“For [the] last spring semester, over the course of January through May, we received about 750 infringement notices, which includes repeat offenders and first-timers,” Holland said.

“Our campus is much more forgiving of using peer-to-peer file sharing and downloading content illegally than other universities. Some universities you get cut off from the network the first time you get an infringement regardless of whether you’re guilty or not and it costs you 50 bucks to get the network back,” Holland said.

Holland said that students need to think about the consequences of their actions. “This is a community here and the community has to abide by rules whether you agree with them or not.” Holland also said that students should “think about consequences beyond the immediate gratification of downloading the music, song, or TV show or whatever you want right then, because you can probably watch it or listen to it streaming.”


1 Comment

  1. Luke Faraone says:

    Cutting off internet access because of *accusations* is bothersome. These agencies often make mistakes, and to remove access without some sort of internal due process seems wrong.